Coach Russ Milligan knew Center Grove’s bats eventually would come alive in the Johnson County Softball Tournament semifinal game Friday night.
Visiting Class 3A Indian Creek allowed just two hits and one run during the first two innings against the Class 4A No. 2 Trojans.
But the third inning was a different story. Led by a three-run homer by senior right fielder Natalie Lalich, Center Grove scored seven runs on as many hits en route to a 16-1 dismantling of the Braves in five innings.
The offensive display helped the host Trojans (21-1) advance to face Class 4A No. 7 Greenwood in the championship game at 10 a.m. today for a chance to win a 14th straight county title.
During the fourth inning against Indian Creek, Center Grove recorded eight runs and five hits in 13 at-bats to put the game out of reach.
“We do hit the ball really well; every one of them can,” Milligan said of the Trojans. “Very rarely do we go twice through the lineup without someone hitting the ball hard.”
Lalich went 2 for 3 with the home run and a walk, and senior left fielder Brooklyn LaMar was 3 for 4 at the plate with a triple and three RBIs. Senior Lindsey Davis, junior Anna Gunderson and sophomore Sarah Thompson each hit doubles for Center Grove.
Trojans senior pitcher Taylor Shireman (14-0) gave up just five hits and one run in four innings to record the win.
But Lalich was the one who got the Trojans rolling with her deep shot over the left-field fence while Butler and junior Kimmy Sullivan were on base with one out in the third inning.
“I was just trying to get a solid hit to move them,” Lalich said. “I wasn’t really thinking home run. But if it comes, fine.”
Junior pitcher Kathy Phillips (9-4) was Indian Creek’s most productive player. She helped lead the Braves to a 15-7 quarterfinal win against Class A No. 5 Edinburgh earlier Friday.
Against the Lancers, Phillips went 4 for 5 at the plate with a triple, double and eight RBIs. She recorded the win on the mound against Edinburgh and was the starting pitcher in the game against Center Grove.
Indian Creek coach Gary Mitchell said Phillips is one of the catalysts for the Braves’ success this season.
“She’s real important to this team,” he said. “Her leadership and quality — not just on the mound — are critical. Our other girls see her work hard.
“But we’re definitely not just one player. Kathy’s a big piece of the puzzle, of course, but we’re a team, and that’s why we’re successful.”
Although the Braves (12-9) didn’t have enough energy to beat the Trojans, Mitchell said he was proud of how they got even with Edinburgh, which beat Indian Creek 5-0 on April 10.
“We knew Center Grove would be a tough game, especially if we had to expend all of that energy; but we’re very proud of (the Braves),” he said. “They did exactly what we wanted to do. We’re playing like we ought to be playing heading into the end of the season.”
Milligan said the Trojans wouldn’t need any extra motivation for their rematch against the Woodmen, whom they beat 14-7 earlier in the season.
“Every time we play them, it’s going to be a game of who’s going to outscore who?” he said. “They certainly can hit the ball, too, but I think we’ve had the upper hand in that.”